Nature or nurture? It's the pertinent question and has been since Cain slew Abel. David's brother Charlie, 30, is a supervisor at a youth crisis center in St. George, Utah, a last-chance kind of place for gang members and drug abusers. "Some kids, it doesn't matter how many chances you give them," Charlie said last week, "and I think David was one of those cases. We all love him, and we gave him as much as we could. I don't know why he went astray."
It certainly wasn't because of childhood abuse or neglect. When David was growing up, the Caspers lived on an idyllic hundred acres at the edge of a national forest, in Mapleton, Utah. There were orchards, meadows, trout streams. They raised their own vegetables, but it wasn't a work farm. The chores were shared with a housekeeper. Billy, when he wasn't at golf tournaments, played ball with the kids and took them fishing. Shirley cooked imaginative meals and ground her own wheat flour, which she bought in hundred-pound bags. "The delicious smell permeating the house on baking day," wrote a visitor in the mid-'70s, "is enough to induce a perfect stranger to consider being put up for adoption."
There was certainly no lack of moral instruction. The Caspers prayed together upon rising in the morning. They prayed at meals, at regular devotional sessions and at bedtime. The older children took religion classes every day before school, and they honored the Sabbath with two-a-days at church. Insular? Perhaps, but Billy's celebrity and the chances they got to travel made the kids feel connected to the outside world. "You don't realize how good moms and dads are until you have children of your own," says Bobby. "Mine were great. They provided us with everything we needed to succeed and be happy."
David fit in. He played, he prayed, he fished, he ran in the fields. He also fashioned refrigerator art that was a cut above, a presage of the big, abstract oil and acrylic canvases he would produce. ("If I had stayed with my parents and focused on my art," he says from jail, "I would be doing cool things right now instead of sitting here.")
So when the Caspers try to explain what went wrong, they can only grasp at "He made bad choices" or "He fell in with the wrong crowd." Bobby theorizes that the family's high standards somehow became a burden to David, who found easier acceptance among high school friends who failed, rebelled or used drugs. Billy, asked if his son suffers from a genetic mood disorder, invokes the old-fashioned notion of a split personality. "David," he says, "is either totally good or totally bad."
Schizophrenia? The Caspers don't know. When David had trouble in school the experts said he suffered from dyslexia and attention deficit disorder. When he started medicating himself with the kinds of palliatives found in school parking lots, the doctors countered with mood-levelers. "But I don't know if he was very faithful in taking them," Shirley says. David himself can't answer the deeper questions, but he doesn't blame his parents. "I don't want anything you say in the article to make them look bad," he said in the jailhouse interview. "They did everything they could do for me and more. I love them, and I want them to know that I take responsibility for all that has happened." He summed up: "I know I am a bad boy."
The cell phone was a mistake. It was in the glove box of Gian Scozzaro's Audi when David drove away that Saturday. The San Diego police asked the shaken English teacher to keep the account open; if the carjacker used the phone, the call could be traced.
"I never used that phone," David said later. "I wouldn't use that phone. It had to be Lisa." Or Ernie. Or Ernie's girlfriend, Veronica, who was with the fugitives in Las Vegas. They were all doing speed. David, their charismatic leader, was injecting speedballs.
Las Vegas was their destination because Llamas wanted to visit her boyfriend, who was locked up in the Clark County Detention Center on an immigration violation. But when they reached Vegas on Saturday night it was too late. They decided to stay until Wednesday, when visiting hours resumed. Over the next five days Casper and Llamas moved from hotel to hotel—the Casa Malaga, the Luxor, Circus Circus, Treasure Island, the Wild Wild West—always paying in cash and usually registering under the name Lisa Llamas.
After one night on the Strip, they were broke. David, the breadwinner, told Lisa that he and Ernie were going out "to make some money." An hour or so later 19-year-old Vincent Curtis, a clerk at a Checker Auto Parts store, handed over $300 to a speed freak waving a black handgun.